Dual was once Europe’s largest turntable manufacturer and a venerable name on the turntable scene. In the 1980s however during the decline of the vinyl format, the company name was bought and sold, changing hands first to French manufacturer Thomson SA, and later in 1988 to Schneider Rundfunkwerke AG. Today the Dual brand name is used by two different German owned and based companies – Dual DGC GmbH, offering mostly imported consumer electronics including turntables, such as the MTR-40 featured in a previous review. Meanwhile Dual Phono GmbH, creator of the original Dual turntables and now owned by Alfred Fehrenbacher GmbH, continues to produce Dual turntables using the same original production equipment in the town of St. Georgen. The range is made in Germany and carries the CS prefix, just like the models that came before. Herein we feature the Dual CS-435-1, an affordable and fully automatic turntable at the lower end of the 10-strong CS range.
The CS-435-1 is not unlike budget decks of decades past in form or function. Its wood veneered MDF plinth stands on 4 rubber isolating feet, supporting a floating sub chassis on which sits a lightweight alloy platter, belt driven by a DC motor with electronic speed switching between 33.3 and 45RPM. The feet are fixed and offer no means to level the plinth, so a level supporting surface is essential. Other niceties include a thick and antistatic felt mat, well made hinged dust cover and an included adapter for jukebox 45s. The deck is available in black or silver and measures a compact 420 x 125 x 360 mm (W x H x D).
The tonearm features an adjustable counterweight and anti-skate, and a fixed headshell with preinstalled Audio-Technica AT91 moving magnet cartridge. The turntable is fully automatic and as such will automatically place the stylus at the start of a 7 or 12” record depending on the position of the speed selector. It should be noted though that there is no preventive mechanism to stop the turntable starting without a record on the platter and dragging across the mat, which would likely result in the rapid demise of the stylus. The arm does feature manual cuing with a damped lift/lower device which is pleasingly gentle in operation.
Build quality is OK though at this price there are some concerns of note. The platter rides on a fixed centre spindle rather than a traditional bearing. While it appears relatively free moving albeit with a small amount of lateral play, this design is far from optimal and will lead to uneven platter rotation, higher rumble figures and fluctuations in speed, more of which later. The arm bearings are reasonably solid, though there is a degree of play in the anti-skate assembly on which the arm sits and thus vertical play in the arm.
The arm does feel flimsier than price rivals, showing evidence of cost cutting in favour of automatic functionality. The horizontal bearings however were free of play and appeared to move with minimal friction. There is no VTA adjustment as expected at this price. Azimuth was out slightly though not sufficiently to cause any concern with this cartridge. It isn’t easily adjusted, though a screw beneath the headshell should provide fractional adjustment at a pinch. My only other quality quibble concerns the chrome detail strip on the front of the plinth, which began to peel after a day of use and spoiled the aesthetic. Painting the stripe or leaving it off altogether would not have significantly impacted the cost or aesthetic.
Power is via a 12V DC wall wart power supply which turned out to be linear rather than the usual cheap and lightweight switch-mode device. Output is via captive RCA and ground cables of just over a metre in length. The CS-435-1 is supplied in two variants; a standard version at £359GBP (£379GBP in silver), and a model in black only with inbuilt moving magnet phono stage at £399GBP. The phono stage is reasonable and about equivalent to that of a basic integrated amplifier; should you opt for the standard model, an external £40 phono stage will usually offer you better performance. Idle noise levels are low however and the phono stage certainly performs well enough to complement the AT91 cartridge, and is revealing enough to make an elliptical stylus upgrade worthwhile.
The AT91 is not dissimilar to the OEM AT3600 found on many a budget turntable, and even some models higher up the chain. They share the same body style with the only difference besides the stylus colour being in stylus compliance which allows the AT91 to track at a lower 2 grams than the nominal 3.5 grams recommended for the AT3600. The AT91 can however accept the range of stylus upgrades available for the AT3600, including the Lp Gear CF-3600LE which will improve its performance significantly. In stock form it carries a .6 mil conical stylus bonded to a carbon fibre reinforced ABS plastic cantilever which is ‘good enough’, though does suffer from some sibilance and inner groove distortion particularly towards the end of a side. It is however well suited to playing worn styrene 45s, something which I greatly enjoyed doing during my time with the review sample. At only 2 grams of tracking force and with the anti-skate properly set it won’t cause any undue record wear.
Setup, Operation & Measurements
Setup is nothing out of the ordinary. The dual must be situated on a level surface and connections made to the amplifier and power supply. The arm is then balanced and the tracking force set using its calibrated dial. I found the calibration of the dial to be off by about 0.4 grams, so used a digital scale to achieve an accurate reading. Anti-skate was better in this regard, with a setting of 1.5 on the dial applying the correct amount of bias to keep the cartridge tracking straight.
The automatic operation works as advertised. A forward press of the stop / start lever sets the platter spinning and lowers the tonearm to the beginning of a 12” or 7” disc, depending on the speed setting. 10” Records must be cued manually and the mechanism doesn’t cater 7” discs running at 33RPM, or 12” singles spinning at 45 so you’ll have to cue those manually too. It’s a basic mechanism that does the job for those spinning a mix of albums and singles, though independent speed and size switches would be a welcome addition. At the end of the side the arm will rise and return to its rest, and pulling the stop / start lever forwards will trigger the return mechanism at any time.
After giving the CS-431 some time to ‘bed in’, I pulled out the test kit and took some measurements. Average wow and flutter recorded over 10 seconds with a 3kHz test tone was 0.2843% RMS and 0.6595% peak, DIN 45507. Rumble met the quoted 46dB (unweighted) and 68dB (weighted) specs. Out of the box, my sample ran 0.22% fast (33.4 RPM) at 33RPM and 0.59% fast (45.26RPM) at 45RPM, measured using test tones to give an accurate representation of how the turntable will perform when playing a record. While not perfect these numbers are acceptable and it is doubtful that one would notice in real world conditions, though the speed trimmers on the motor are accessible from beneath should you want to tweak the speed to perfection.
Sonically I’d describe the Dual’s tonal character as warm and full bodied, with a bump in the mid and mid high frequency bands that places greater emphasis on vocals and acoustic instruments at the expense of some top end detail and dimensionality, though its stereo separation is surprisingly good. Good levels of detail are unearthed, though not so much as to be too revealing of a bad recording, bad record or both. The AT91 does have a tendency to become a bit splashy at the top end when reaching the end of a side or when tasked with reproducing a louder pressing, though this is largely down to the quality of the stylus itself and an elliptical replacement is much better in both regards. The elliptical upgrade brings with it far better tracking, greater detail retrieval, less surface noise and a larger, better integrated stereo image.
Rumble is surprisingly minimal given the figures above. It’s audible certainly, but doesn’t detract from the music. Speed fluctuations are audible during sustained notes such as those of a piano or woodwind instrument. Though these artefacts didn’t detract too much from the overall experience, this is a turntable perhaps best suited to pop, rock and mainstream music where such issues won’t be so apparent, rather than jazz, classical or quality recordings where its limitations start to show, particularly for those who possess perfect pitch.
No, this is not the best turntable you can buy for the money. Similarly priced and even cheaper alternatives such as Audio-Technica’s AT-LP5 and a number of decks from Pro-Ject, Rega and Thorens offer superior build quality, better specifications and measurably better performance. Rivals offer better drive systems be they belt or direct drive, and more substantial tonearms with better included cartridges. What most lack however is the automatic functionality which may be a dealbreaker for some, for example those unable to operate a manual turntable but who still wish to enjoy their records. A flimsy drive system, cheap cartridge and average quality tonearm won’t worry the best at this price. But if you need, or favour the convenience of an automatic mechanism, the CS-435-1 does sound surprisingly good despite its shortcomings. Worth an audition.